Hunting the Earl of Rone

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This Ascension Day custom which formerly took place at Combe Martin in Devon, appears to be unique, although it includes echoes of other customs such as the mummers play and the hobby horse. The performers are: The Earl of Rone (wearing mask, frock smock padded with straw, string of twelve hard sea-biscuits round his neck), The Fool (gaudily dressed, carrying besom), a gaily painted Hobby Horse with openable jaws (called the Mapper), a real donkey decorated with flowers and more sea-biscuits, and some Grenadiers (coloured paper hats with ribbons, carrying guns). At 3 p.m. on Ascension Day the Grenadiers march to nearby Lady's Wood to search for, and find, the Earl who has hidden there. They fire a volley, set him on the donkey, facing its tail, and return to the village, accompanied by Fool, Hobby Horse, and crowd of spectators. En route, the Grenadiers fire off other volleys and each time the Earl falls as if wounded. The Fool and Horse exhibit signs of grief, and revive him each time. They visit public houses on the way, and try to solicit contributions from the crowd. The performances ceased about 1837, but were revived in the village in 1970 and have continued since. The local legend cited as the basis for the custom explains that a real Earl of Tyrone had, in Queen Elizabeth I's time, taken refuge in the wood, with only a few ship's biscuits to keep him alive and he was captured by soldiers.

Wright and Lones, 1936: i. 144–5;E. L. Radford, ‘A Quaint Ascension-Day Festival’, Trans. Of the Devonshire Assoc. 49 (1917), 71–5;Tom Brown, The Hunting of the Earl of Rone (rev. edn., 1997).

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